After a year of resetting the culture, three days off, and a couple days of preparation for the incoming Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors begin, in mere hours, their third attempt in as many years to dethrone LeBron James.
This series doesn’t quite come with the same stakes that last year’s second-round match-up with the Cavs did — there are no star players about to head into free agency, no all-in deadline moves were made to inject added weight and pressure, and Toronto’s already exceeded most pre-season expectations. Losing to the Cavs again would be deflating, but not catastrophic. And as it turns out, the Raptors have a good chance of winning the damn thing outright.
Let’s have a look at what came out of shoot around on the morning of what will probably be an enormous Game 1 in terms of series win probability added if the Raptors can come out of top.
C.J. Miles’ 72 seconds in front of the cameras didn’t yield much in the way of bravado or hints at what the Raptors might try to throw at Cleveland tonight. Some wise words can be parsed out, though.
If there’s something to take from Miles’ answers, though, it’s this snippet lifted from his first answer.
“There’s no need to put more weight on it than what it is.”
For the reasons laid out above, the Raptors would do well to live by these words during the series. LeBron James has warped the way we evaluate basketball and what success really means. He adds grandiosity to every game he plays. The Raptors have proven all season that they’re a better team than Cleveland. Focusing on maintaining their identity without discussing LeBron as some mythical, unimpeachable figure they way they’ve done in the past, should go a long way to curb-stomping any psychological demons still lingering from their last two playoff ousters.
Up next we have DeMar DeRozan. Once again, not much in the way of meaningful discussion of the series at hand. Rather, DeRozan spent the bulk of his availability addressing a far more important topic than basketball.
With the league’s two faces of mental health advocacy in DeRozan and Kevin Love coming together in this series, there’s an opportunity for more earnest discussions about mental health and the fight to end the stigma against openness and vulnerability to come out of the next couple weeks of media availabilities. That’s a good thing. DeMar is good person. It’s nice to root for good people doing good things.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey was also asked about DeRozan and Love’s efforts, among many other things in his post-shoot around chat with reporters.
”It helps the whole league,” said Casey. “Mental health is something that affects all of us in different ways ... I think that initiative is huge by Kevin and DeMar, speaking up, speaking out ... it helps to be able to address it in an open way.
“It’s a new day,” added Casey, referencing the slowly but surely evaporating stigma against openly discussing mental health issues.
“My philosophy and my thought process has changed ... back then when I was in college, if you drank water, you was weak, which is the dumbest thing that we could ever do. Same with mental health, that’s not the case. We have to be empathetic with people who we feel like may have issues and understand that there’s more to it than just basketball.”
On a day like today, where it seems like everything revolves around a basketball game, those are words to remember.
Casey’s next-most notable response came when asked about the Raptors being the favourites in the series. When someone chimed in that it was in fact the Las Vegas books picking Toronto to win, Casey responded with a Guy Montag-ass response.
”Now we’re playin’ for books.”
Later, asked about how the 2011 title-winning Mavs team Casey coached with compares to this year’s Raptors, Casey offered this:
“This group is different. We’re full of energy, we’re talented, we’re young. The unexpected is there whereas with a veteran group you knew what to expect.”
While the question was in reference to a championship team of the past — one that happened to beat LeBron James, if you recall — Casey’s response gets to the core of why this year’s Raptors are simply more fun than the team of 2016-17.
Last year’s role players were deemed disappointments when they failed to perform their assigned tasks. Not only are the Raptors youthful pieces making good when called upon this season, they do it with a boisterousness and flare that Patrick Paterson, DeMarre Carroll et al couldn’t match.
We’re about to find out if this year’s Raptors model can match what that Mavs team did to LeBron all those years ago.